One of the most often cited quotations from the late A. W. Tozer reads as follows: “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”
It doesn’t take a genius to understand why preachers of all stripes like to use that quote. It is embarrassingly true that so many of us have let an idea of what “church” should be take over as our foundation of Christian thinking. The words of Christ, given and preserved by the Holy Spirit, are not the foundation stones, nor are they the pillars that support our spiritual house. Instead they are more like beautifully framed pieces of art that adorn the walls of a self-designed house.
This problem isn’t unique to our day or to our comfortable lifestyle. Paul first addressed that problem in words of encouragement and exhortation to the Christians of Colossae: Col. 3:15-17 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
Our hearts are going to be ruled. Our speech will be influenced. And our deeds will be purposeful. ALWAYS. But it is not a given that Christ will rule our hearts, influence our words, and compel our deeds. It is easy for a Christian to sleepwalk or go through the motions without ever really being compelled to think, say, or do because they are in step with the Christ and reformed by the Spirit living within. And what is easy for the individual Christian is also easy for the local congregation.
We do so many things because “That’s what churches do” instead of a deep desire to know Christ better and to serve Him more. To illustrate my point: As we were about to embark on a study of elders and deacons, I asked a group of students to tell me what the role of an elder was. The only assertion made, and it was made almost instantly, is that they take care of the money and the church building. I’ve never taught that, nor have I preached that. So where did such a notion come from? My guess is that it’s an impression based on observable words and deeds rather than a dogma that was purposely taught.
To counter the assertion, I pointed out that church buildings were nonexistent in the first century, and money seems to have been spent on meeting the needs of those who were without or paying the elders and evangelists who made their living from the gospel. Without elaboration, I then had them read the qualifications for an elder from 1 Timothy. Afterwards, I asked them what they thought those qualifications suggested about the role of the elders. They had an entirely new perspective after they thoughtfully read the text and had discussed the meaning of terms like: aspire, reproach, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, etc. It wasn’t difficult at all for them to develop a whole new view of a New Testament-guided eldership.
That pretty well sums up where a lot of Christians are in their thinking on most things church-related. An idea or model has evolved down through the years that is comfortable, never radical—and it has become the foundation and the walls of what we think the church should be. A. W. Tozer, a self-taught man with a prolific pen, was exactly right. But if his observation strikes too close to home for comfort, there is opportunity for change. Would you take Christ out of the picture frame and let Him truly be your foundation? Let Colossians 3:15-17 have a higher priority in your life as you begin the NEW YEAR.
Keep studying. DC Brown ©2016